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Easing chipset shortage should relieve PC market

Just in time for Christmas

A shortage of computer chipsets, which has taken the blame for everything from slowing the brisk momentum of global PC sales to delaying the adoption of new memory chip technologies, should be nearly over, component makers and analysts say.

The news comes as the PC market nears its important Christmas buying season.

The global PC industry ran into a shortage of computer chipsets, which regulate the flow of data between the CPU and other chips such as memory and graphics, in the middle of the year as users snapped up new machines at an unexpected pace.

Component makers complain that without the chipset shortfall, users would have bought even more computers over the past few months. But now the supply of chipsets is rising, just as the traditional computer buying season wanes, and that should mean shortages of the vital PC part are nearly over.

"Chipset makers have been able to increase production, so that should help take care of the problem. And since PC demand is quite seasonal, demand for chipsets this year will gradually decrease in November, after peaking in October," says James Huang, a semiconductor analyst at SinoPac Securities in Taipei.

A number of chipset suppliers say they've been able to increase output, which should help meet demand even if consumers continue to buy PCs at a zippy pace throughout the month of November. Between July and the end of September, worldwide PC shipments increased by more than 17 percent compared with the same time last year, according to IDC - a much faster pace than the 13 percent growth rate the market researcher had expected.

US chip giant Intel, which has taken the brunt of industry discontent over the chipset shortage, says a dearth of chipsets for low-end PCs could remain a problem through December, but that it has met demand for chipsets used in notebooks and servers over the past few months. The company believes the shortage may not abate until early next year, said Barbara Grimes, an Intel representative in Hong Kong.

In August, the world's largest chip maker said stronger-than-expected PC demand had forced it to reduce production of certain kinds of chipsets because its factories were already full of orders for higher-margin products. The manufacturer has been battling to keep up with chipset demand for much of the year.

To make up for Intel's shortfall, Taiwanese chipset suppliers have been increasing output.

"We were able to plan our production, so the fourth-quarter shortage shouldn't be as serious as in Q3," says Jessie Lee, a representative of Silicon Integrated Systems. The company expects its chipset output to rise as much as 30 percent in Q4 compared with Q3.

It takes about three months to finish a computer chipset, so companies have to plan production schedules carefully. They don't want to be left with a huge inventory of unsold chipsets, but they also want to sell as many as possible.

The company believes the shortage has been a drag on PC sales, and expects strong demand for PCs to continue past the traditional peak month of October, Lee said.

Via Technologies, another Taiwanese chipset supplier, will increase output by up to 10 percent in the current quarter compared with Q3, according to Amy Liao, a spokeswoman for the company. She said the firm was able to raise prices in October because of the shortage, and expects to maintain higher prices due to increased manufacturing costs.

Taiwanese makers of computer motherboards, a circuit board that holds and connects most of the vital chips and other components inside a PC, have been among the most vocal complainers about the chipset shortage.

Motherboard companies have not been able to fill all of their orders as a result of the shortage, but they largely expect the problem to dissipate as demand weakens after the normal peak months of September and October, according to a representative of Asustek Computer, the world's largest motherboard supplier.

In addition, motherboard makers and research analysts, such as Goldman Sachs technology industry watcher Henry King, have argued that the shortfall has been good for AMD, since it relates to Intel architecture chipsets only. But during its Q3 investor conference last month, AMD rejected the idea that its gains over the past few months have been a by-product of Intel troubles, saying its brisk sales come from a strong product lineup.

"The space where it hasn't announced any sort of shortage or issues is where we performed the best," said Hector Ruiz, AMD's chairman, president and CEO, in a conference call with analysts. He pointed out that speedy sales of the company's notebook chip, Turion, had nothing to do with the Intel chipset shortage.


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